Your paper should ideally:
- Demonstrate or describe a research problem, provide analysis of the issue and arrive at a conclusion
- Show awareness of contemporary research in the field, and acknowledge supporting and opposing views
- Demonstrate its own contribution to knowledge
- Argue for the importance and validity of its subject and methodology (where appropriate)
Structuring your paper:
Your paper should essentially answer four main questions:
- So what?
- Now what?
Day and Peters (1994), "Quality Indicators in Academic Publishing", Library Review, 43, 7
In an essay, you are normally given the title so you can just get started with addressing the question. This is not the case in a paper for a journal, so you need to start by saying why your subject is important and why you want to study it. The why is important: too many articles start with something like 'the purpose of this article is to study X, so I collated some data and here is what I found'. You need to contextualise the topic and give some background, so you can set the stage. What are your research questions and why are they important?
You then need to move on to what you did: depending on your subject, the main body of your article may include literary analysis, case studies, data, descriptions of experiments and so on. You may decide to divide it into subsections or write it as one long discursive piece. However you organise it, you need to make it a logical progression so you're not jumping around and back. Always have your reader in mind when you're writing and ensure you are doing all you can to help them understand your research.
This leads us on the 'so what?' – that is, what do your results mean and what has your analysis shown? Explicitly, what are the answers to your research questions? What are your conclusions? What effect has this had / could it have on your discipline? You don't want you leave your reader wondering why they read your article and what they have gained - asking 'so what?'.
And finally, 'Now what?' – have your discoveries opened up further questions for research, or have you produced something which is self-contained and doesn't need further study? Other people reading your work might have been inspired to carry out their own research so let them know what further questions you think your research has raised. The answer to the 'now what' question might be any one of a number of things, but it still needs spelling out. Again, this is different from an essay.